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Monday, November 27, 2006

A Bad Day for Quebec Sovereignty and Gerard Kennedy

Poor Gilles Duceppe.

He thought he found a way to sucker punch the federalist parties and wound up dropped to the mat himself. Last week, Duceppe announced that the Bloc Quebecois would introduce a motion in the House of Commons declaring that 'the Quebecois are a nation'. He had picked up on nascent division in the Liberal party and thought he could exploit it to his own quirky separatist ends.

See, not so long ago, the Quebec arm of the Liberal Party adopted a platform that included the recognition of Quebec as "a nation within Canada" and the creation of a task force to officialize that status. Anyone with a good memory could guess where this was heading - constitutional talks. More Meech Lake. More Charlottetown. More, God help us, referendums on the constitution inside and outside Quebec. The platform quickly showed the potential to be a political quagmire when Michael Ignatieff stepped in a big, steaming pile of controversy by supporting it. Bob Rae, a veteran of constitutional talks, expressed concern not so much with the idea of Quebec nationhood but with the idea of reopening the constitution. Duceppe saw his chance to drive a serious wedge in the Liberal Party and to force those silly Anglos to once again say no to special rights for Quebec.

The notion of Quebec as a nation is nothing new. We all know that Quebec is a distinct society, that the Quebecois are a unique people. They eat poutine, for goodness sake, we know they're different. The problem has always been the balance between symbolic recognition of nationhood (as in Scotland) and legitimate nation-like powers. Canadians have traditionally been hesitant to offer the former out of fear that it will only feed demands for the latter.

So when Duceppe threatened to introduce his bill on Quebec as a nation, it could have been ugly. Yet, in one fell swoop, Stephen Harper stifled the debate, all but eliminated the divide in Liberal party and took all the wind from Duceppe's sails. The PM introduced his own motion, echoing the Quebec Liberal party in calling for recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada, but with no mention of that tricky 'officializing' issue. He quickly garnered cross party support.

Now, Duceppe is in the nasty situation of having to support the bill - and in doing so is for the first time acknowledging that the federal government may have some say in the status of Quebec. It's an important concession from the rule of the absolute self-determination that has been part of the separatist playbook for years.


Yet, now, Liberal contender Gerard Kennedy has spoken out against the bill.

I understand why. I really do. As the fourth-place guy in the race, he needs a rallying point. He needs a wedge to draw delegates. But whoever advised the only guy in the race who can't speak French past a fourth grade level to take a stance against Quebec nationhood is thinking a little too much about the leadership race and not enough about the next election.


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